As children, most of us were taught that it is not nice to exclude but in the quest to make stronger images excluding is essential.
YOUR BRAIN EXCLUDES, YOUR CAMERA DOES NOT
Sometimes we don’t realize that visual exclusion is something our brains do for us automatically. When you look at a scene your brain knows what you want to focus on, very swiftly analyzes all of the visual details and blurs or eliminates that which it deems unimportant. Your camera regardless of how complicated a device it may seem is not as sophisticated. It doesn't know what you want the focus of a scene to be - it simply records the entire scene. So when we lift the camera to our eye, everything included in the frame is given equal importance.
STRONGER IMAGE = CLEAR FOCUS = EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS
It’s up to the photographer to make the subject or focus of an image clear. One simple way (and there are others) to start making better photos is to ask yourself - what is it about this scene that made me want to take a photo in the first place? Then make sure that whatever you answered, fills the frame. Cut out all the rest either in camera or in post-production.
EXCLUDE BY GETTING CLOSER
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before. It's another way of saying cut out the clutter and focus in on the subject. Getting closer will help to fill the frame with the subject, making it the focus and allowing the audience to see what moved you.
I took the image above last week at the sailing club where my son trains. I was there to photograph him, but the light was lovely and while I was waiting I noticed that there were some beautiful reflections of the red metal dock in the inky blue water. I made this photo. The beautiful reflections are there but so are several distractions, including the "legs" of the dock and the pattern of ripples on the water. The beautiful painterly part of the reflection is what caught my attention but in the image, the lake and the rusty red dock take up the bulk of the frame and distract from the focus .
In this second version I have cropped out all of the distractions. Even though it becomes an abstract image, it is stronger than the first version because it does a better job of highlighting the beautiful reflections in the water that caught my eye and made me want to take a photo in the first place.
Here is another image I made at the same location on the same day. In this case it was the beautiful red, blue and white colours and the reflective quality of the lake that caught my attention. Having learnt from the first example I immediately cut out the surrounding environment in the field by zooming in (with my feet) on the buoy and its reflection in the glassy surface of the water.
EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS = CLEAR FOCUS = STRONGER IMAGE
Next time you are out shooting, give this simple tip a try. Be ruthless and exclude. Be mindful of what caused you to want to take a photo in the first place and then make sure to make it the focus of the frame - even if that means leaving other things out. If this makes you nervous then go ahead and start out by shooting wide and including everything. Just don’t stop there. Zoom in (either with your lens or your feet) and take another shot, and then another. Try filling your frame with what caught your attention in the first place. If that still feels uncomfortable then play with cropping in post production. Either way, I bet you'll notice that the more you exclude, the stronger your images will become.